JACKSONVILLE, Alabama (KVIA) -- On the back of 12 kills and six blocks from Ryleigh Whitekettle, NM State got back in the win column on Saturday. The sophomore outside hitter was instrumental on both offense and defense in the straight-set victory over Jax State. The Gamecocks fell to 5-15 overall, and are 3-7 in Conference USA. The Aggies stopped their three-match losing skid, improving to 14-9 overall and 7-5 in league play.
Set-by-set: NM State wins 3-0 (25-13, 25-20, 25-20).
The first set began with an unsuspecting 5-4 Gamecocks lead before the Aggies went on their greatest run of the match, and one of the most impressive bursts this season. Ashley Herman teamed up with Whitekettle to lead a 12-point stretch which saw the Aggies win 11. A Jax State timeout wasn’t enough to disrupt what ended as an 8-0 run for the visitors, putting them up 15-6 in a hurry. In those 12 points, Herman and Whitekettle combined for block assists on two points, and each earned another solo block, accounting for four of the five total NM State blocks in the opening frame. Whitekettle added two kills in the 11-1 run as part of a three-kill first set.
Herman and Whitekettle would go back-to-back with kills as part of a later 3-0 run to take an 18-10 lead. Later, Kacia Brown and Starr Williams recorded three straight kills. The set concluded with a 4-0 stretch of Aggie points, wrapping up a frame that included five runs of three or more consecutive points won by NM State, highlighted by the aforementioned 8-0 run. Notably, libero Darian Markham recorded just the ninth kill of her career on an overpass. Brown’s final of her four first-set kills was followed by a pair of Jax State errors to comfortably close things out 25-13.
Bianca Perez made sure to carry the Aggies’ momentum into the next frame. The sophomore dropped in a pair of service aces, and set up Kacia Brown for a pair of kills to quickly put NM State ahead 7-2. The home team wouldn’t take a lead in the set, largely due to the two tallest Aggie hitters; Ryleigh Whitekettle and Starr Williams. The duo tallied nine kills with a .500 hitting percentage in the frame. Whitekettle posted five on just six attempts, and added another block in the second. Jax State only mustered up seven digs across the 45-point period, and the pair of redshirt sophomores were a large part of that equation.
Rilen Garcia found herself in the starting lineup for the fourth time in the last five matches. The sophomore setter has continued to see more action, and posted 17 assists and five digs in the victory. NM State’s last two kills in the second set came from the usual suspects; Whitekettle followed Williams, and were both assisted by Garcia. Those kills ended the set 25-20, leaving the Aggies one set away from victory.
Darian Markham continued her stretch of consistent production in the victory. The senior libero ranks second in CUSA in digs, eclipsing the 400 mark for 2023. Markham now sits at 1,502 career digs, becoming the fourth Aggie to surpass 1,500.
Markham posted an assist and five of her 16 digs in the third set, when she hit the historic mark. While Jax State pulled ahead 7-3, NM State responded similarly to the opening set. Three kills and a solo block from Starr Williams sparked a 7-0 Aggie run, taking the lead for the final time. The Gamecocks forced some pressure, and tied it another three times. Ultimately, the Aggies’ offense was simply too hot to handle.
The team hit .414 in the final set, landing 14 kills on 29 attempts, and only posting two attack errors. The team greatly improved on Friday’s performance, where they collected 27 attack errors, and responded by putting up just four. The four attack errors are tied for the fewest by the team in any match this season. Maggie Lightheart continued her impressive weekend with three kills on five attempts in the third. NM State found themselves ahead 22-20, and pounded three straight kills to end the match. One of the three came when Lightheart had her fifth and final kill on the day. The other two belonged to Ryleigh Whitekettle, coming through at the most important moment of the day.
From the Floor
Head Coach Mike Jordan, on the win: “It was a good performance today. We have to be more consistent on Friday night. Some of our team will benefit a lot from the time off. Others will take a day or two, and they need to get some training in and get better.”
Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Ryleigh Whitekettle, on her career-high six blocks: “After yesterday, we talked a lot about blocking assignments and watched film that helped myself and the team as a whole with blocking. I chose better spots and it paid off.”
Ryleigh Whitekettle, on the improved offensive production from herself and the team: “It feels great to come back and make less errors. Putting the ball away better always feels nice. We learn from mistakes and are improving our third contact control as a team.”
NM State is entering their longest period without a match of 2023. The Aggies will have next weekend off, and will return for a non-conference match against Chicago State. The Cougars will visit the Pan American Center on Monday, Oct. 30 at 6:00 PM MT. The match will be streamed live on ESPN+, and available to follow via Stat Broadcast. Those links can be found at nmstatesports.com.